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Can conservation trump impacts of climate change on soil erosion? An assessment from winter wheat cropland in the Southern Great Plains of the United States

By Jurgen D. Garbrecht, Mark A. Nearing, Jean L. Steiner, Xunchang J. Zhang and Mary H. Nichols


AbstractWith the need to increase crop production to meet the needs of a growing population, protecting the productivity of our soil resource is essential. However, conservationists are concerned that conservation practices that were effective in the past may no longer be effective in the future under projected climate change. In winter wheat cropland in the Southern Great Plains of the U.S., increased precipitation intensity and increased aridity associated with warmer temperatures may pose increased risks of soil erosion from vulnerable soils and landscapes. This investigation was undertaken to determine which conservation practices would be necessary and sufficient to hold annual soil erosion by water under a high greenhouse gas emission scenario at or below the present soil erosion levels. Advances in and benefits of agricultural soil and water conservation over the last century in the United States are briefly reviewed, and challenges and climate uncertainties confronting resource conservation in this century are addressed. The Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) computer model was used to estimate future soil erosion by water from winter wheat cropland in Central Oklahoma and for 10 projected climates and 7 alternative conservation practices. A comparison with soil erosion values under current climate conditions and conventional tillage operations showed that, on average, a switch from conventional to conservation tillage would be sufficient to offset the average increase in soil erosion by water under most projected climates. More effective conservation practices, such as conservation tillage with a summer cover crop would be required to control soil erosion associated with the most severe climate projections. It was concluded that a broad range of conservation tools are available to agriculture to offset projected future increases in soil erosion by water even under assumed worst case climate change scenarios in Central Oklahoma. The problem is not one of a lack of effective conservation tools, but one of adoption and implementation. Increasing the implementation of today’s conservation programs to address current soil erosion problems associated with the large year-to-year climate variability in the Southern Great Plains would greatly contribute towards mitigation of projected future increases in soil erosion due to climate change

Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.wace.2015.06.002
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